In response to which we got this:
I must admit Amy is pretty on the button, but there's something missing. The original article hides the premise 'geeks are not cool' ('geek' please, 'nerd' is so 80's) following it up with 'we need to con kids into thinking that geeks are cool in order to get them to take on technical skills that our society (and economy) will badly need in the future'.
The problem with this is (as usual) the underlying presuppositions.
- Computing, and by analogy all technology skills are not cool
- Many kids are not interested in tech skills because the are not cool
- Portraying tech skills as cool will get more kids interested in tech
Item 3: the assumption that you can hoodwink kids into thinking something is cool when it isn't is something which is doomed to failure (as kids are a lot sharper than adults give them credit for). Look at what happened with the UK government's 'science is cool' marketing campaign in the 90's, which had little effect other than to convince parents that their government was willing to spend lots of money to get them convinced that they should tell their kids that science was cool.
Needless to say if you tell your child that X is cool, he or she is most likely to believe that it isn't because: a) parents are not cool, ergo anything that they think is cool must a priori not be, and b) sheer bloody-mindedness.
Item 2: I challenge the assumption that kids only learn stuff at school that is somehow 'cool'. Kids are interested in all kinds of diverse things, and it rarely comes down to what is 'cool', as this invariably means something entirely unconnected with school like pop music or pop culture.
Item 1: Tech *is* cool. To those that matter. What I mean by this is that the kids that are interested in tech see it as cool, they want to learn about it. Trying to somehow convince kids that tech is cool when they're not interested in it, in order to get them to learn it is a deeply flawed strategy. Instead, how about showing them how diverse, deep and wonderfully beautiful tech can be, and letting natural wonder and curiosity do the work?
The question as stated in the article amounts to 'how can we crank the school educational handle in order to change the ratio of kids coming out of school with tech skills', which is a bit like the tail wagging the dog - there are deep flaws with the current educational system that will not be solved by hoodwinking pupils with some kind of marketing campaign for tech.
Instead, how about:
- Teachers in every discipline start showing how technology affects their own discipline, and teach kids about how technology works as a lever for almost all forms of human endeavour.
- For classes in essentially technology oriented disciplines like Math, hard sciences and IT, start showing the inspirational side of Tech, from NASA to Nature, it isn't hard to find stuff that provokes awe and wonder, real SciFi.
- For IT in particular, start with getting kids doing creative stuff, not MS Office and 'Theory of Computing 101'. Kids need to start with interest, not history and first principles.
Life on other worlds? Awesome! Tick! Cool? Tick!
Racing car made from recycled vegetables? Wacky? Tick! Cool? Tick!
In this way kids will get a chance to experience the 'WOW' factor of technology, and give them some aspirational material. Without a goal, it's very difficult to sit through a 101 class and actually learn anything, other than how to send txts to classmates without being caught by the teacher...